The eagerness of legislators to “do something” about every conceivable ill that plagues humanity all too often results in legislation that does more harm than good.
In Massachusetts, the problem is exacerbated by a one-party Legislature unchecked by effective opposition. No sooner does a quick fix pop into an eager legislator’s head than a bill is on the governor’s desk, ready for his signature.
This “there ought to be a law” mentality nearly snuffed out an Andover company and its 250 jobs. It took last-minute legislative action to avert disaster and save the company from the Legislature’s own bungling.
In its zeal to fight the legitimate problem of prescription drug abuse, the Legislature in 2012 passed and Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill concerning the sale and distribution of certain medications, largely painkillers and narcotics.
Among its provisions, the bill prohibited Massachusetts pharmacies from filling prescriptions written outside of the New England states and New York. The goal of this provision was to crack down on those who abuse proscription medications by “doctor shopping” — getting a number of doctors to write them prescriptions for the same drug. While many pharmacies would question a prescription from well outside the region, some unscrupulous “pill mills” are willing to fill them.
But an Andover company, Injured Workers Pharmacy, is in the business of filling legitimate prescriptions from around the country. The company serves 30,000 patients around the nation, helping injured workers through the compensation claims process, The company employs 250 people at its Andover facility.
Had the legislation taken effect May 1 as scheduled, Injured Workers Pharmacy would have been forced out of business.
“By accident we included companies like IWP that had been around for 10 years with no problems, no issues,” state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, told the State House News Service. “I’ve talked to the president of the company probably more times than I can remember. Here’s a company, they’ve done nothing wrong.”
Finegold and other legislators rushed through a bill that delays implementation of this prohibition until Dec. 1. The delay gives legislators time to refine the bill so it does not ruin legitimate companies like Injured Workers Pharmacy.
This isn’t the only aspect of the bill that needs more thought. The bill also requires physicians to participate in the state’s prescription monitoring program, a measure that could make some doctors hesitant to prescribe painkillers to their patients.
Prescription painkillers and narcotics certainly are abused and that abuse causes a great deal of personal suffering and damage to society. However, there are many patients who need these medications to treat their chronic pain and ease their suffering. Why must those who legitimately need these medications suffer for lawmakers’ zeal to pursue abusers?
Abuse of drugs, prescription or otherwise, already is illegal. There are uncounted laws on the books limiting and controlling their use. Lawmakers, eager to “do something” to fix every problem, are sweeping up ever more innocent people and businesses in their nets.
Thoughtful lawmaking recognizes that when someone says, “there ought to be a law,” often there already is.